Picture of the Google Home app on iOS, displaying the Google Home Setup screen, prompting to play a test sound on the speaker.

Google Home Speaker Review




Launched in November of 2016, the Google Home Smart Speaker is a Wi-Fi enabled intelligent speaker, that acts as the front end for Google’s virtual assistant service.  The Home can “hear” your spoken questions and commands, and can speak the answers back to and perform tasks for you.

It’s also an internet radio that can play hundreds of internet radio stations from TuneIn, Pandora, Etc.  This speaker also can play podcasts, various games, and the weather.

Smart speaker devices like the Google Home also give you access to a virtually unlimited music selection via your YouTube Red, Pandora Premium, Spotify Premium, and Google Play subscription accounts.  You may also ask for local traffic reports, and customize a list of national and local audio news sources, and then ask Google Home to play them for you in playlist fashion.  Not a bad compliment of capabilities for the $130 price tag.

Control of popular televisions and smart home devices like the Nest internet thermostats and Philips Hue light bulbs is a snap with the Google Assistant via the Google Home Speaker.   Program modules, called abilities, are constantly being developed that extend the speaker’s capabilities.  The speaker also supports voice-managed shopping lists.

Priced under one hundred thirty dollars, the Google Home speaker is a reasonably affordable smart assistant, radio, music player, shopping clerk, sales woman, and news curator.

Picture of the Google Home intelligent speaker, completely unboxed, showing the original packaging opened, the speaker, manuals, and power adapter.
Google Home intelligent speaker, completely unboxed, showing the original packaging opened, the speaker, manuals, and power adapter.

Benefits, Pros, Features, and Advantages

  • Small size.  Small foot print and lightweight.  At less than a pound  and shorter than a  16-Oz. can of soda pop, the Google Home packs a lot of function into a modestly sized form factor.  And, with the cloud-based infrastructure Google Assistant support, size these days is certainly no indication of just how capable a device might be.
  • Includes 16.5-volt, 2-Amp power adapter.  While this speaker requires more power than a USB-style adapter is capable of delivering, the included 16.5-volt, 2-Amp, positive center barrel connector, switching power pack is not much bigger in size and weight than a universal USB adapter.  USB power adapters just cannot supply the necessary power in order for this speaker to provide the rich bass and volume that qualifies this device as a high fidelity music player.
Picture of the Google Home speaker, bottom view, showing the 16.5 Volt DC barrel style power connection.
Google Home speaker, bottom view, showing the 16.5 Volt DC barrel style power connection.
  • Bright multi-color top lights.  This bank of LED lamps that form a circle beneath the top touch surface of the speaker, light up when you issue Google Home questions and commands.  They indicate status of internet connection, and processing activity, and are dark and invisible unless the speaker is fulfilling a command or answering a question.
Picture of the Google Home speaker, booting in progress, displaying the multi colored light ring, indicating that.
Google Home speaker, booting in progress, displaying the multi colored light ring, indicating that.
  • Touch surface on top for tactile control.  You can tap the top of the speaker, where the lights are located in the previous picture, to pause and resume audio play.  You can also swipe your finger in a circular motion anywhere on the top to adjust the volume.  Note in the next picture, that you can’t see the top lights at all on the speaker when they’re dark.
Picture of the Google Home smart speaker, front view, with box open.
Google Home smart speaker, front view, with box open.
  • Multiple case colors available.  Currently the Google Home comes in numerous cloth or metal speaker grill colors, including orange, blue, purple, gray, black, rust, and white.
Picture of the various speaker grill colors available for the Google Home Speaker.
Google Home Speaker, example of available grill colors.
  • Mic Off feature.  Disable the built-in microphone array by pressing the Mic Off button, located on the back.  Doing so mutes the mic so that the speaker stops listening.  The light ring glows a stead orange four-blip pattern while the mic is off, to remind you that the speaker assistant is not available to respond to questions until you enable the mic by again pressing that Mic Off button.
Picture of the Google Home speaker rear view, showing the Mic Mute button (near top) and pilot lamp hole (near bottom, above the G logo).
Google Home speaker rear view, showing the Mic Mute button (near top) and pilot lamp hole (near bottom, above the G logo).
  • Far field microphone system.  The speaker includes microphones that incorporate far field communication technology and natural language processing, which provides much improved voice intelligibility over more traditional mics.  The assistant rarely misunderstands commands.
  • Fast Google Assistant response.  She generally answers a question in a few seconds or less, although times may increase with heavy internet or Google server traffic.
  • Accessible.  Primary setup and control functions are accessed via the Google Home app, which you install on an iOS or Android tablet computer.
  • Lots of online documentation available.  Google offers extensive help files that explain how to set up and operate this device in detail.  Check   here   to view it.
  • Answers lots of questions by default.  Ask the assistant for the current time, weather, news, and traffic reports as well as to sing Happy Birthday, tell you a joke, or engage in rudimentary conversations with her.  We expect this capability to improve as artificial intelligence and machine learning are further integrated into the Google Home infrastructure.
  • Alarm clock and timer.  The smart speaker can act as a very smart alarm clock and kitchen timer, and supports multiple wake-up time settings and timers.
  • Uber support.  Abilities to request rides from Uber are available. No Lyft support yet however.
  • Getting smarter every day.  Lots of new and free abilities have been developed already with many more in the works.
  • Cloud enabled.  This smart assistant is cloud-based, and therefore benefits from Google’s massive computer farms, networks, and software engineers who constantly update, enhance, and extend Google Assistant functions.
  • Seamless integration with your Google account.  The Google assistant, with help from the Google Home app, can link to various subscription services in your Google account, such as Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube Red.
  • Plays many internet radio stations.  Google Home offers access to the thousands of Internet broadcast streams from  TuneIn radio, when they work.
  • Supports numerous content providers and aggregators.  Plays podcasts, hourly news broadcasts, the audio portion of YouTube videos.
  • Growing list of abilities available.  News briefings and music services are just a couple of the many abilities that Google Home has.
  • Smart home enabled.  Through this voice service, Google Home can control popular smart home devices such as Nest, Philips Hue (the multi-color capable Wi-Fi light bulbs), power switches, and wall outlets.
  • Room filling sound in small package.  Though not much larger than a 1970s portable radio, the Google speaker offers louder, higher fidelity sound.  It provides ample volume for bedrooms, living rooms, and even larger rooms.
  • Can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Allows in-range mobile phones and tablets to connect to and use your Google speaker, without giving them your home Wi-Fi password.
  • Chromecast support.  In leu of Bluetooth, you can control your Chromecast devices with this Google speaker.  You can direct said devices to play movies and music with just voice commands, with this speaker as your intermediary.
  • Whole-house audio support yet.  Multiple Google speakers can function as a group.  The system supports syncing of two or more speakers spread throughout your home, so that they play the same thing together for multi-room music playback.  You hear the same thing at the same time from all grouped speakers.
  • Easy to buy.  Get it from popular vendors such as Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon.

 

Problems, Cons, Limitations, and Disadvantages

  • Inflexible external speaker support optionsThe Google speaker offers neither a 3.5mm stereo line-level output jack (that would support connection to a hi-fi audio stereo system) nor a Bluetooth connection for pairing with numerous external Bluetooth speakers.  So you cannot add smart speaker functionality to just any set of amplified speakers without a Chromecast receiver, sold separately.
  • Available abilities need further development.  Some abilities currently offer sketchy documentation on how to utilize all of their capabilities.  Some offer scant features that do not fully represent the smart devices they’re supposed to be designed to control.  However, we predict that this inadequacy will fade as a prominent issue as the technology grows up.
  • The Google Home app can be slow and sometimes buggy.  As with all tablet apps, program crashes are not unheard of in the Google Home app.  And since this app relies on the speed and quality of the supporting internet connection, it can at times run slowly and take a long time to respond to menu and button taps.
  • No Programmable wake command.  To get Google Home’s attention, you choose from two possible phrases (Okay Google and Hey Google).  We’d prefer instead, a customizable wake command that could be ANYTHING we can say; not just a couple phrases.  Multiple wake commands would also be a plus.
  • Limited voice training feedback.  Google maintains a history list of the questions and commands you’ve recently issued, which you may opt away from by the way, and they say that the assistant does indeed learn how to better understand you from these recordings.  However, no method we could find allows you to provide feedback for the questions you asked.  But we feel that you should be able to provide detailed feedback about whether Google Home properly understood each question and then provided the correct answers.  This would help the system and its developers learn the “correct” responses to various queries.  Further, unlike the Amazon Alexa assistant, we found no voice training feature that would enable Google Home to learn the particulars of your specific voice, by having you read a series of small phrases into its memory.  Then, armed with the knowledge of how you speak those phrases, Google would better understand your particular speech patterns, which could reduce misunderstood questions and commands.
  • Bluetooth pairing not available as of yet. As of this writing, you cannot yet pair your Google Home with an external Bluetooth speaker, nor can you utilize your Google Home AS a Bluetooth speaker itself.
  • No battery power provision.  Unlike the Amazon Tap, with no internal battery, the Google speaker must be plugged into AC power to function.
  • False triggering.  Sometimes, the Home assistant will think that you’re addressing her when you’re playing a radio or talking to someone on the phone.  Usually of little consequence though.  If this is a problem however, be sure to disable the purchasing services like booking a cab, so that the assistant doesn’t inadvertently buy something that you do not want.
  • Does not function without working internet connection. Google Home must be able to access Google services in order to work correctly.
  • More internet radio aggregators needed.  Currently, the Google speaker only offers direct access to TuneIn Radio stations.  We’d like to see them add services like OOTunes, StreamTheWorld, CBS, iHeart Radio, and other large scale streaming aggregator services.
  • Many TuneIn Radio stations do not play currently.  The Google Assistant is finicky about how you have to request some TuneIn stations to play.  For instance, saying “Okay Google, play WRTA” does not work, even though WRTA radio is a working TuneIn stream.  She responds with, “I looked for WRTA on TuneIn, but it is either unavailable, or can’t be played right now.”  However, saying “Okay Google, play 1240 Altoona,” plays the correct station.  Further, many stations appear to have no alternative way of requesting them.  For those, the speaker says, “Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that yet.”
  • No access to Amazon Music.  We have Amazon music accounts where we’ve uploaded some of our music library.  But we cannot yet play those recordings on Google Home.  This may never come to be, since Amazon and Google are direct competitors in the smart assistant speaker space currently.  But one can only hope, and hopefully, this hoping will yield some results.
  • Does not remember more than one recent Wi-Fi network.  Unlike the Amazon echo devices, which store a history of Wi-Fi networks that you’ve accessed with your Echo device, the Google Home speaker only remembers one network.  This means that if you take your speaker out of your home to another network, set it up there, and then subsequently bring it back to your own network, you must again explicitly scan for and choose your Wi-Fi network and enter its password again.  What a pain.  Hopefully, Google will catch up with Amazon and add a Wi-Fi network connection history feature to this speaker.

Our Rating

We find the Google Home virtual voice assistant to be  a reasonably good value.  It’s advanced, true, but still very “green,” and has much room for further growing and development.  As new content sources come online, the assistant will likely offer them.

Over all, we appreciate the workmanship and thoughtful engineering that went into this product so far (particularly its wide excursion speakers and acoustic design), and so, rate it at 88 out of 100.  It will deserve a much higher rating if Google implements some of those want-to-have features discussed above.

Related Posts

References

Revision History

  • 2017-01-31: Updated tags list.  Changed post title to: Google Home Speaker Review.
  • 2017-01-14: Added to the Cons section, about not remembering more than one recent Wi-Fi network connection.
  • 2017-01-05: Originally published.